Do *things* affect us more than we think they do?

I recently woke up from a dream wherein I had to press “left shift” in order to “sprint” on my scooter. Having only played fortnite once in my entire life, I was shocked to see remnants of the game in my dreams…

Recently, I’ve been paying way more attention to my surroundings. Part of this has been because I’ve been trying to be more present in my everyday life even in the more mundane tasks. Part of this has been due to my exploration of lucid dreaming and the need to be hyper-aware of one’s surroundings in order to notice if something incongruous happens or appears. Part of this has been because lockdown seriously tests my mental health and stability and I feel the most stable and grounded when I am deeply rooted in the present moment, no matter what that moment may encompass. In addition to being more present to my surroundings, I’ve also been more present toin my internal moods and the associated changes well.

It is almost unbelievable how much I am affected by my environment. On some level, we all know this. We’ve all heard the phrase “nature vs. nurture” implying that our environment affects us, possibly more than our DNA does. We’ve also heard that “you are the average of five people closest to you”. And while these phrases are interesting and momentarily thought-provoking, usually I was never driven to take action or make any changes based on these reasons.

But all of this up-close inspection during lockdown has finally driven me to think even more critically and introduce some changes into my life. First things first, toxic environments are TOXIC. Now yYou all know that I believe that there is something to be learned from every situation, but if you have the opportunity to leave a toxic environment, LEAVE. I think the challenge for me was I truly believed that if I could improve myself enough, regulate my emotions well enough, then I could thrive in a toxic environment even though I would be constantly challenged. I hoped these challenges and tests would force me to level up quickly. And it did. I thrived. I leveled up quicker than I ever have before. But at what cost?

My emotional awareness and regulation improved exponentially, but my mood torpedoed. How did I think I could completely insulate myself from a world of toxicity? The scary part is that we adapt so quickly it’s easy to forget that a toxic environment wasn’t always your norm. That’s why it’s so hard for the people in toxic relationships to actually recognize what is happening, even when it can be so easy for onlookers to see what’s going on.

So, if you can, curate your environment. Choose friends intentionally. Spend time with people intentionally. Choose where you live intentionally. Now, here’s where it got tricky for me. What if choosing your environment forces you to end up somewhere more expensive.? I was raised to be generally averse to spending money, so at first, I struggled with the idea that I, me and my mental well-being, are worth spending money on.

I really try to live my life in day-tight compartments and one of the few things that affects me every single day is my environment. Yes it may be a little more expensive to move yourself to an environment that is kinder to you, but can you really put a price on that? To me, living in a supportive and loving environment is priceless and is preferred to any physical thing that money could buy. I’ve always been a fan of spending money on experiences instead of things and my environment is literally the experience of my everyday life. As I work on being grateful for mundanity, I should also work on improving the conditions of my mundanity.

But before, I suggested it may be easy to be oblivious to these types of toxic relationships and environments. So how do we make sure we haven’t fallen into one?

Be self-aware. Continuously check-in with yourself. If you find that your day-to-day mood is on average different than it was before, it may be a clue that something needs to change. However, like anything in life, there are many possible causes for everything that happens. So pay attention to other cues. Honestly, I pride myself on being self-aware and making it a priority to check-in with myself and I didn’t even recognize that I was in a toxic environment for two whole months. In fact, it was only this morning when I asked myself, “why have I been waking up feeling sad every day when usually I wake up excited and raring to go?” that I noticed something was off. The answer? My environment.

For me, this realization was the last straw and drove me to invest in moving myself to a different environment. Now when I say invest, I don’t mean a five-star resort on some clear-skied island. I just mean removing yourself from the toxic environment, which may inherently involve some costs of moving.

Next week, I will be moving into a much more supportive and loving environment. Take this as a reminder to invest in yourself and your environment, because you really are worth it.